Revealed: Just how many people in Preston are to lose their free TV licence
Thousands of pensioner households in Preston will soon be receiving a letter that ends their automatic right to a free TV licence.
Charities and campaigners have said the change will be devastating for many older people, especially as a second wave of Covid-19 could make access to television a “lifeline”.
A House of Commons Library analysis reveals 5,530 households with someone aged 75 or over in Preston will cease to qualify for a free licence under the new means-tested scheme.
The new rules came into force on August 1 and mean only households with someone in the age bracket who receives Pension Credit will be eligible.
Previously, anyone aged 75 or over was exempt from the charge, which stands at £157.50 per year.
Around 3.2m households across Great Britain could lose out on the benefit, according to the findings.
The BBC was given responsibility for funding free TV licences as part of a deal with the Government in 2015.
But the corporation says it would cost £745m a year to foot the bill, which it could afford only by shutting down numerous channels and radio stations.
Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said she would not stop campaigning to have the decision overturned.
She added: “This is devastating for all those people who will now have to find the extra money. We’re particularly concerned about those who are only just over the Pension Credit limit.
“They’re the ones who are already making difficult decisions about how they spend their money.
“For those people their TV is a lifeline, particularly when we might have a second wave of the coronavirus.”
She added: “We will continue to argue with the Government – it’s their responsibility.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said it was “deplorable” that any older person should have to choose between cutting spending on essentials, giving up TV altogether, or watching without a licence and breaking the law.
She said she hoped the BBC and the Government could find a way to “keep TV free for the oldest in our society”.
Across the North West, an estimated 348,830 pensioner households will need to buy a licence.
The analysis compared figures on households with someone aged 75 or over receiving Winter Fuel Payments – a universal benefit – with Pension Credit claims in November last year in which the main claimant was in the age group.
The BBC said it is sending letters to people asking them to confirm their eligibility to continue to receive a free licence, or to pay from August 1.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licence fees for the over-75s. The BBC isn't making any judgements about who is or isn’t poor, as the Government sets the criteria for Pension Credit eligibility.
“Our focus is now on making the transition as safe and easy as possible for all older people.
“No one needs to do anything until they have received a letter from TV Licensing – whether that’s paying or applying for a free licence – and no one needs to leave their home.”
She added that 800 call centre staff were working to support customers.